Waking Up with Shoulder Pain? Understanding The Shoulder Discomfort

Waking Up with Shoulder Pain? Understanding The Shoulder Discomfort

We’ve all had those mornings: waking up with a stiff neck, a sore back, or – quite commonly – shoulder pain. It’s perplexing to think that the very act of resting could contribute to discomfort. However, the way we sleep and the positions we adopt throughout the night can play a significant role in how our bodies feel come sunrise. This blog will dive deep into the causes and prevention strategies for shoulder pain resulting from sleep, ensuring you wake up on the right side of the bed every day!

Why Do I Wake Up With Shoulder Pain After Sleeping?

Why Do I Wake Up With Shoulder Pain After Sleeping?Waking up with shoulder pain from sleeping can be due to a variety of reasons ranging from sleeping position, and lifestyle habits, to underlying medical conditions. Here are some of the most common reasons:

Sleeping Position and Its Implications

One of the most common culprits of shoulder pain upon waking is your sleeping position. For those who prefer sleeping on their side, the downside is that the shoulder on which you’re lying can bear the weight of a significant portion of your body. This sustained pressure throughout the night can lead to soreness or intensified pain, especially if you’re compressing the shoulder’s tendons by extending your arm overhead. On the other hand, stomach sleepers often face their own challenges.

Role of Your Bedding

A mattress that doesn’t cater to your body’s needs, being either too plush or overly firm, might not offer the right level of support. This lack of support can lead to misalignment issues involving the spine and shoulder, thereby causing discomfort. Meanwhile, your pillow plays a pivotal role in ensuring your neck and shoulders remain in a neutral position. An unsuitable pillow can elevate or depress your head disproportionately, leading to undue strain on your neck and shoulder muscles.

Medical Conditions

Issues like rotator cuff tendinitis or tears can be especially painful when you’re lying down. The rotator cuff is a crucial ensemble of muscles and tendons in the shoulder, and any inflammation or damage here can result in substantial pain. Other conditions like frozen shoulder, characterized by pain and joint stiffness, and types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, can also lead to nighttime discomfort.

Daily Habits and Shoulder Health

Our daily activities and postural habits can unknowingly contribute to shoulder pain. Engaging in repetitive movements, either due to sports or certain job functions, can lead to strains in the shoulder muscles and tendons. Additionally, maintaining a poor posture, especially when sitting for prolonged periods, can initiate or exacerbate tension in the shoulder and neck region.

Underlying Impact of Stress

Stress, both emotional and physical, can be an unexpected contributor to muscle tension. Often, the body’s response to stress is to tighten certain muscle groups, and the neck and shoulders are prime areas for this tension to accumulate.

Echoes from the Past

Last but not least, if you’ve suffered from a shoulder injury in the past, there’s a possibility of experiencing chronic discomfort, especially when the injured area is subjected to pressure during sleep.

In all instances, if shoulder pain persists, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.

How Long Does Shoulder Pain Last From Sleeping Wrong?

How Long Does Shoulder Pain Last From Sleeping Wrong?Shoulder pain from sleeping in an awkward or incorrect position usually results from muscle strain, tendon inflammation, or joint compression. The duration of the pain can vary based on the severity of the strain or injury and individual healing rates.

However, here’s a general timeline for how long shoulder pain might last if it’s due to sleeping wrong:

  • Mild Pain (1-3 days)

If the pain is mild, it might just be a slight muscle strain or a temporary compression of the joint. Such pain usually eases within a day or two, especially with appropriate home remedies.

  • Moderate Pain (up to a week)

For moderate discomfort, where there’s a more noticeable strain or inflammation, the pain can linger for several days.

  • Persistent Pain (more than a week)

If the pain persists for over a week, it might be more than just a minor strain from sleeping in an odd position. There could be an underlying issue such as bursitis, tendonitis, or even a rotator cuff injury. In these cases, it’s essential to seek medical attention.

In any situation, if the pain is severe or if you suspect any other complications, it’s crucial to consult a medical professional.

How Do I Get Rid Of Shoulder Pain From Sleeping?

Shoulder pain from sleeping in an uncomfortable position can be frustrating. Especially if it disrupts your daily activities. Here are some steps you can take to alleviate the pain:

Adjust Your Sleeping Position

  • Back Sleeping: If possible, try sleeping on your back, as this position puts the least amount of stress on your shoulder joints. Use a pillow to support your neck and maintain spine alignment.
  • Alternate Sides: If you’re a side sleeper, try alternating sides during the night to distribute the pressure and prevent overloading one shoulder.
  • Avoid Stomach Sleeping: This position can strain the shoulders, especially if your arms are extended or positioned awkwardly.

Use Proper Bedding

  • Mattress: Ensure your mattress offers adequate support. It shouldn’t be too firm or too soft. A medium-firm mattress is generally recommended for most individuals.
  • Pillows: Use a pillow that keeps your neck aligned with your spine. Consider specialized orthopedic pillows designed for side sleepers if you tend to sleep on your side.

Cold and Heat Therapy

  • Cold Compress: For immediate relief, especially within the first 24-48 hours, apply a cold pack to the affected area to reduce inflammation and numb the sore tissues.
  • Heat Therapy: After the initial inflammation has decreased, use a warm towel or heat pad to relax and soothe muscle tension.

Gentle Stretching

Engage in gentle shoulder and neck stretches to relieve tension and enhance flexibility. These can be beneficial in easing muscle tightness and promoting blood flow.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Non-prescription pain medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help reduce inflammation and pain. However, always use them as directed and consult a doctor if you’re unsure about their suitability.

Maintain Good Posture

During waking hours, be mindful of your posture. Maintaining a straight spine and avoiding slouching can prevent added strain on your shoulder muscles and tendons.

Physical Therapy

If the pain persists or is recurrent, consider consulting a physical therapist. They can provide exercises and techniques specifically tailored to your situation, promoting healing and preventing future occurrences.


A therapeutic massage can help relax tight muscles, improve blood flow, and alleviate pain. Consider seeing a professional masseuse or physiotherapist.


If the pain doesn’t improve after a week or if it intensifies, it’s essential to see a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying conditions or injuries.

Remember, while these tips can offer relief, it’s essential to address the root cause of your shoulder pain. Making necessary adjustments to your sleeping environment and habits can prevent the recurrence of discomfort in the future.

How Can I Prevent Shoulder Pain From Sleeping?

How Can I Prevent Shoulder Pain From Sleeping?Certainly, there are additional strategies you can employ to prevent shoulder pain from sleeping:

  • Pillow Placement

If you’re a side sleeper, place a small pillow between your knees to keep your hips and spine aligned, which can indirectly reduce stress on your shoulders.

  • Shoulder Stretches Before Bed

Incorporate gentle shoulder stretches into your bedtime routine. This can help relax the muscles and improve flexibility, making your shoulders more comfortable during sleep.

  • Elevate Your Upper Body

If you’re experiencing acid reflux or other digestive issues, elevating the upper part of your body slightly with pillows can alleviate pressure on your shoulders while you sleep.

  • Breathing and Relaxation Techniques

Practice deep breathing or relaxation techniques before bed. These methods can help reduce muscle tension and promote overall relaxation, potentially minimizing shoulder discomfort.

  • Yoga or Pilates

Engage in regular yoga or Pilates sessions, focusing on poses and exercises that promote shoulder mobility and strength. This can improve your overall posture and reduce the risk of sleeping-related shoulder pain.

  • Use a Body Pillow for Back Sleeping

If you’re a back sleeper, place a thin body pillow under your knees to help maintain the natural curve of your spine and relieve pressure on your shoulders.

  • Adjust Your Pillow Height

Experiment with different pillow heights to find the one that keeps your head and neck in a neutral position. This can prevent shoulder strain caused by an improperly elevated or flattened pillow.

  • Sleep Hygiene

Create a sleep-conducive environment by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. A restful sleep environment can contribute to better sleep quality and reduce the likelihood of waking up with shoulder pain.

  • Stay Active and Maintain Shoulder Strength

Engage in regular exercise that includes shoulder-strengthening activities. Stronger shoulder muscles are more resilient and less prone to pain and discomfort.

  • Limit Electronic Devices Before Bed

Reduce screen time before sleeping. Poor neck and shoulder posture while using devices can contribute to tension and discomfort.

  • Experiment with Different Sleep Surfaces

If you continue to experience shoulder pain, consider trying different sleep surfaces. Such as memory foam or latex mattresses, to see if a change in support improves your comfort.

Remember that it might take some trial and error to find the combination of strategies that works best for you. Implementing a combination of these techniques can greatly reduce the chances of experiencing shoulder pain from sleeping.


In the quest for restorative sleep and pain-free mornings, understanding the nuances of shoulder pain stemming from sleep habits becomes paramount. By recognizing the interplay between sleeping positions, proper bedding, and individual anatomical factors, one can proactively sidestep the discomfort that often plagues those early waking hours.

Shoulder pain need not be an inevitable companion to sleep – armed with knowledge and the right strategies, achieving restful slumber while safeguarding shoulder health becomes an achievable reality. If you’re experiencing Shoulder pain, physical therapy for shoulder pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.